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Make It Foolproof

Potlucks are parties that guarantee maximum fun (and food) with minimal effort. All it takes is a desire to get together with friends and family — plus a little advance planning. Here are a few of our favorite tips.

Keep prep simple
Select dishes that don't need last-minute preparation, other than a quick reheating or arranging on a serving platter. Clear space in your refrigerator and plan for guests' use of the oven and microwave.

Label it
Encourage guests to bring copies of the recipe as well as a small sign for the buffet table, marked with the name of their dish—and the cook. Suggest they label their serveware so there's no confusion when everyone’s ready to head home.

Be a travel pro
Ask guests who have to travel the farthest to contribute foods that are easy to transport and don't need to stay hot, like breads, desserts or salads. Or have them bring wine or other beverages.

Make it easy to eat
With potlucks there are usually more people than seats at the table, so try to choose dishes that don't need both a knife and fork to eat. For easier eating, set up tables or create impromptu dining areas in different rooms.

Pick a theme
Any day's a great time to host a potluck, but sometimes it's fun to orchestrate your gathering around a theme — from game days and birthdays to an Academy Awards party or regional menu.